Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows

Yesterday I watched a sobering documentary about the fishing industry in Baha California, just south of the border. Jacques Cousteau referred to Mexico’s Sea of Cortez as “the world’s aquarium”, but fishing nets and overfishing have wreaked havoc in the underwater world.

A number of concerned groups and citizens have undertaken monumental efforts to save the area’s most endangered species. Only about 15 vequita porpoises are still known to exist.

A member of the Sea Shepherd non-profit rescue group member warns of the vequita’s desperate plight:

“This animal is about to disappear off the planet because of human activity. We can’t keep killing the planet. We have to change what we are doing. Not just for the vequita, but for all animals in the gulf.”

Early in the film, there’s a shot of his group raising a gillnet from the water. Looking at the stingrays and a turtle — just some of the sad bycatch trapped within — he remarks, “These walls of death kill everything here… We want no nets in the ocean and our tactic right now is to pull them.”

Why are the gillnets there?

Because all the creatures trapped as bycatch are unlucky enough to share the Sea of Cortez with the totoaba fish. And the endangered totoaba’s swim bladder, we learn, fetches such high prices as a culinary delicacy in China that it’s known as “the cocaine of the seas!”

The worker passionately explains of the bycatch:

“Every single animal here matters for every single other animal in the ocean. It’s all so incredibly intertwined. We are not a virus here to kill our host, to sit there and let the entire ocean die, because of the greed of a few.”

But is it really the greed of a few people in China, or the greed of anyone, anywhere who thinks eating fish has no consequences?

What struck me most while watching Sea of Shadows was the realization that the senseless damage happening in the very small Sea of Cortez is being repeated all over the world.

Oceana.org’s Bycatch report offers a chilling assessment: “Some have estimated bycatch to be at 40% or 63 billion tons a year.” This is completely unacceptable.

So I have comlete sympathy for Sea Shepherd’s stated mission: “We will continue to fight here. Pull nets, free animals. And fight for every single life. We won’t stop.”

But I’d also add, “We must change what we are doing, for every animal in the world!”

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